Senators are moving to craft their own school finance plan that a top Republican wants to pay for with a surcharge on utility bills.
A Senate committee will work for the rest of the week and potentially into the weekend to develop the plan, under a time line outlined by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, who chairs the committee.
The bill will possibly include a fee on utility bills – $2.25 on residential bills and $10 on commercial bills – that he says will generate about $150 million a year.
A utility surcharge would provide a dedicated source of revenue for education, Denning said, at a time when sales tax revenue growth is slower than in the past. Denning floated a surcharge weeks ago.
“What I was trying to do is look for something very broad, and that is the broadest fee in Kansas,” Denning said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he could not support a utility surcharge.
“It makes no sense that we would be funding schools from a source of revenue other than the state general fund,” Hensley said.
Any source of revenue other than the general fund would be open to sweeps, he said, meaning it could be diverted to other uses. The state highway fund has been repeatedly swept over the past several years to help balance the state’s budget.
The surcharge idea has enough support to pass the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance, said Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills.
“He had the votes. I’m surprised,” Bollier said.
Denning could not say how much in additional funding schools would receive under the Senate school finance plan, but said he would know on Thursday. A bill was expected to be formally introduced late Wednesday, and the committee expected to begin hearings Thursday.
The Senate is 10 days behind the schedule he had expected on school finance deliberations, Denning said.
Lawmakers face a court-ordered June 30 deadline to enact a new finance formula. The Kansas Supreme Court found the system inadequate earlier this year, citing academic underperformance by 25 percent of students.
A House committee advanced its own plan Monday, but the full House hasn’t debated it yet. The House plan calls for a funding increase of $278 million over two years, much less than an increase of $750 million over five years included in an earlier version.
Lawmakers are attempting to balance an increase in school spending against efforts to solve a projected state budget shortfall of about $900 million over the next two years. Even the most aggressive tax increases that have been discussed would not have generated enough additional revenue to pay for a $750 million school increase.
The Kansas State Department of Education on Wednesday also released district-by-district figures of the House bill’s impact. Wichita public schools, the state’s largest district, would receive about $16.1 million in additional base state aid next year.
Other area districts would see these increases in state aid:
Derby: $1.7 million
Goddard: $2.8 million
Haysville: $2.4 million
Maize: $2.6 million
Valley Center: $1.2 million
Andover: $1.9 million